Bosnia and Herzegovina + 2 more

Picking up the pieces after the floods: ‘the river took everything from me’

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Rabija Dedic could never have imagined that the pretty Starinska river in front of her house would burst into her life and turn it upside down in an instant.

“I loved that river and it was that river that took everything from me,” she says.

The river crushed the 59-year-old’s house and she now lives in barracks with 250 people. They are just some of the 2,000 inhabitants from Topcic Polje, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who lost everything in the few hours it took for the river to rise.

Still shocked from the experience, and with tears in her eyes, Rabija says she and her family have been sharing a dormitory with 14 other fellow villagers since last week.

More than three million people have been affected by flooding across Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia.

Nearly one million have been evacuated and 53 people have reportedly been killed. The death toll could yet rise as many people remain missing.

‘The end of the world’

It isn’t long before a former neighbour, Mirnesa, bursts into tears and tells the story of her family’s escape from the water and the surrounding hills.

“My husband broke his leg trying to jump a fence and save our animals, while my 14-year-old daughter kept screaming and hanging onto me,” she says.

What ultimately saved her and her family’s lives was hiding in the bucket of a bulldozer out in the field. “What we lived through is like the end of the world.”

“Last week’s events make me have nightmares, that I am sinking and the earth is swallowing me up,” says Dervis, another villager who, with his wife, sought shelter following the floods.

Red Cross support

The Red Cross branch from Zenica, in central Bosnia and Herzegovina, is now looking after the daily needs of people who were evacuated to the dormitories of a local army barrack and a college.

The volunteers are in charge of registration and provide ingredients for people to cook three daily meals.

Five thousand Red Cross volunteers and 250 staff have been providing support for more than a week in 50 different locations.

Relief efforts are being hampered by landslides, damaged infrastructure and broken telecommunications. The issue of shifting minefields, due to landslides, is also likely to affect the relief effort.

Once the waters have receded, the damage can be assessed. The economic impact is set to be huge.

Estimates suggest recovery costs of more than one billion euros in Serbia and hundreds of millions of euros in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In Croatia, damage to agriculture alone is set to reach at least 30 million euros.

The volunteers are also there to listen to the people who often need to share their apocalyptic stories of flight and destruction to try to make sense of it all.

The shock of losing homes is only heightened by the impossibility of going back: landslides made chunks of hills and swathes of land disappear; houses are submerged or flooded, and crops and farms are destroyed.

“We are not hungry and we have our clothes,” says Mirnesa. The hardest thing, she says, is answering the repetitive question of her children: “Mummy, when do we go back home?”